Monday, September 6, 2010

A LOOK BACK AT THE 31ST DETROIT JAZZ FEST

Drummer Justin FaulknerThis was the Detroit International Jazz Festival's most diverse year. People heard hard bop, avant-garde, Latin jazz and smooth jazz. The festival had a few performances that were weak. Take 6 with the Mulgrew Miller Trio was flat. The a cappella sextet performed some compositions trumpeter Miles Davis put his stamp on. The sextet strayed too far away from their gospel roots. They tried humming and scatting the melody to "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Flamenco Sketches". On the latter, one member even tried to emulate how Davis' muted trumpet used to sound. At best, their scatting was amateurish. The highly anticipated piano duet with Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller was uninteresting. They had similar styles.
The soul dance band Tower of Power was the best non-jazz act. Saturday was packed with memorable performances. Saxophonist Salim Washington & Arts Ensemble of Harlem was the most eclectic. The Tia Fuller Quartet and the Terence Blanchard Quintet put on memorable shows. Maria Schneider Orchestra was the front-runner for the festival's best performance. Schneider's compositions were deep, complex and comparable to Gil Evans. Her orchestra brimmed with some damn fine soloists such as saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Steve Wilson. Trio M's performance was hot as well. Myra Melford played the piano with her hands, forearm and elbow. Legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes played a hit set. As a sideman, Haynes is known for taking long solos. With his Fountain of Youth band, the drummer solos were short and lively. His pianist Martin Bejerano took a few long improvisational excursions. The youngster knows a thing or two about swinging. Haynes is up there in age. He never micro-managed the workload to young band mates. Haynes was in the mix from start to finish, matching their prowess.
The Branford Marsalis set was enjoyable. He changed bass players like dress shirts. The great Eric Revis has been the saxophonist’s go-to-man for years. Marsalis gave a Revis a coffee break on, and invited bassist Christian McBride and Bob Hurst to play a few tunes. Marsalis has replaced his running buddy Jeff "Tain" Watts with Justin Faulkner. Watts, an acrobatic drummer is irreplaceable. Faulkner is a promising young drummer. He has been rolling with Marsalis for nearly a year. Obviously, he listened Elvin Jones and Tony Williams records, and memorized their licks. The downside of attending the Detroit jazz fest is you have to make hard choices. Do you catch the Allen Toussaints set, or the Manhattan Transfer? Or do you try to experience some of both?
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